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Human Right to Water Bill Passes Senate Committee

Dan Bacher: More than 11.5 million Californians rely on water from suppliers that experienced at least one violation of State Drinking Water Standards as reported to the Department of Public Health in 2004.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, in a special hearing in the State Capitol in Sacramento on July 7, passed AB 685, the Human Right to Water bill.


This landmark bill would establish in law a state policy that every Californian has a “human right to clean, affordable, and accessible drinking water for their basic human needs,” according to a joint news release from the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW) and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).

“After hearing moving testimony from safe water advocates and residents of California communities without access to safe drinking water, the committee voted 5-3 in favor,” said Debbie Davis, Policy Director of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. “A broad-based coalition of faith-based, human rights, environmental, consumer rights and environmental justice groups celebrated the latest legislative victory for the human right to water package moving through the legislature.”

The vote was on party lines, with the 5 Democrats present voting for the bill and the 3 Republicans voting against it. Democratic Senators Fran Pavley, Noreen Evans, Christine Kehoe, Joe Simitian and Lois Wolk voted yes, while Republican Senators Doug LaMalfa, Anthony Cannella and Jean Fuller voted no. Democratic Senator Alex Padilla was absent. 

“California is one step closer to being the first state in the nation to establish this historic policy which would help everyone have access to clean, affordable water at their tap,” stated Davis.

AB 685, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Eng, is the lead policy bill in package of six Human Right to Water bills. Four of the five other bills in the package — AB 938 (V.M.Perez), AB 983 (Perea), AB 1221 (Alejo) and SB 244 (Wolk) have also won support in their house of origin and received bipartisan support in the latest round of policy committees votes, according to Davis.

“It is shocking that in California we have communities where the sole water supply is contaminated, and where families unable to afford treatment are left entirely without safe water,” said Assemblyman Eng, in explaining why he authored his bill. “It is critical that we help communities throughout the state gain access to clean, affordable water.”

Eng said declaring the human right to water as official policy will set a goal for California agencies so that state policies will change to enable Californians to gain access to clean, affordable water. “I am proud to author AB 685, part of a package of bills that will help bring California closer to a day when everyone will have access to clean, affordable water,” he stated.

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“Although this latest vote was on party lines, we hope that the bill proceeds to the Senate Floor and receives bi-partisan support,” said Reverend Lindi Ramsden, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry. “We have collected over 1,000 letters of support from people of a variety of political perspectives across the state from Humboldt County to San Diego County.”

“While billions of dollars have been spent on water projects in California, we have still much work to do to make sure that everyone has access to clean water to drink,” emphasized Ramsden.

More than 11.5 million Californians rely on water from suppliers that experienced at least one violation of State Drinking Water Standards as reported to the Department of Public Health in 2004, according to Davis. As many as 8.5 million Californians rely on supplies that experienced more than five instances of unsafe levels in a single year.

“The Human Right to Water bill passed the Legislature and was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009,” added Davis. “We are hopeful that with Brown’s experience on California water issues, we’ll have a different outcome this year.”

Co-sponsoring organizations include the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Community Water Center, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, Food and Water Watch, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Winneman Wintu Tribe, Urban Semillas, Catholic Charities Diocese of Stockton and Clean Water Action.

This bill is opposed by the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the Western Growers Association and several other water service providers, who contend the bill “may lead to a requirement that water agencies provide water service without consideration to affordability, thereby increasing water bills and have other unintended consequences,” according to the Legislative Analysis.

While the state and federal governments continue to promote the construction of a peripheral canal (”conveyance”) through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to facilitate the export of northern California water to corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and southern California water agencies, many rural and urban communities have to rely on surface and groundwater supplies contaminated by fertilizers, toxic chemicals, sewage and other pollutants.

dan bacher

In July 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right. The vote was 122 for and 0 against, with 41 countries, including the United States, abstaining. Over 884 million people throughout the word lack access to safe drinking water.

Dan Bacher